Dinefwr Park - Vulnerability
Physical Condition - Park Landscape
The National Trust has sought to maintain the historic fabric and environmental quality of Dinefwr Park. Limited resources have acted as a constraint but a programme of gradual replanting, building restoration and consolidation has been undertaken. Cadw has surveyed, consolidated and continues to maintain the castle. Castle and Church Woods have been preserved by The Wildlife Trust South and West Wales.
Recent surveys (see Appendices) have demonstrated that the essential character of most of the 18th century design remains. It is the detail that has been obscured or lost. Footpaths are overgrown and smothered by fallen trees. Part of the Brown path to the east of the castle has fallen away forcing the Wildlife Trust to alter the route. Bridges are barely visible beneath summer vegetation. Fencing has transformed sweeping views into modern agricultural fields. Trees have been felled and others have grown unchecked to mask views. Water features have disappeared or been reduced. Rapid siltation is smothering the eastern end of Mill Pond obliterating the designed element of this part of the park and threatening the ecology of the area.
Home Farm has lost almost all of its parkland quality having been farmed under an intensive agricultural regime for the last forty years. Lines of poplars and shelter belts of mixed trees have been planted.
The present appearance of the park depends largely on the magnificent, old tree community. These trees are vulnerable to a range of factors some within the control of the National Trust and the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales but many, such as climate change and the management of neighbouring properties, are beyond our direct responsibility. Agricultural pressures have been an issue for many years but within National Trust boundaries these are gradually being reduced. The National Trust and the Wildlife Trust have worked consistently with both internal and external advisers to maintain this exceptional community. However one severe climatic event or a failure to take preventative measures now could devastate this landscape. The lack of variation within the age/class structure makes this community susceptible to dramatic loss. Replanting that fails to take account of the original design intention would reduce the value of the landscape.
Scrub to the west and east of the castle obscures footpaths laid out in the 17th and 18th century, and may also conceal evidence of medieval occupation. Lack of management could result in even larger features such as the castle and Llandyfeisant Church disappearing in foliage and losing their landscape significance.
Footpath erosion does not appear to be an issue at present but there is potential for this to occur in the future. The eastern drive is deteriorating because of vehicle use. This is the current approach to the house for visitors, staff, other landowners and their tenants. The access track to Castle Woods, used by Cadw, disabled visitors and the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales, cuts across what should be sweeping lawns. Modern fences accentuate this harsh line. Vehicles used for stock management have caused erosion in parts of the Deer Park.
Evidence of the pre-park landscape, which survives in the form of tracks and field boundaries some marked by lines of trees, is fragile and susceptible to damage by people and vehicles. It is often hard to identify on the ground and it becomes invisible in the summer.
Physical Condition - Dinefwr Castle
Dinefwr castle lies within the woodland owned by the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales and is in state guardianship. The ruins are managed and maintained by Cadw on behalf of the National Assembly of Wales. The castle masonry and the outer earthworks are now conserved and stable. The custody of the site is undertaken by a key keeper and the inner ward is locked after sundown. There remains, however, an almost inevitable vulnerability to damage now that the conservation is complete and the site unmanned.
While the inner and outer wards are managed to secure preservation of buried archaeology earthworks and terracing within the adjacent woodland remain vulnerable to tree roots and wind-throw.
Physical Condition - Park Buildings and Structures
The Deer Park wall and the park wall are in poor condition. Parts are apparently decaying naturally and other sections have been deliberately altered or demolished. The present approach to the park could not be described as imposing.
There are relatively few buildings and structures within the park and, with few exceptions, these relate to estate technology or stock management. Some refurbishment has occurred but projects have not been finished because of lack of resources. Many buildings have had little or no maintenance. Deer were slaughtered in a purpose built structure between the house and the castle but now this contains environmental interpretation with no evidence as to its original function. There are two dams; one in relatively good condition having been recently repaired but the other no longer holds water and is barely recognisable as a historic feature. Bridges and culverts have not been maintained.
The reservoirs and fire tanks dug into The Rookery are in poor condition and leakages are occurring. Failure to maintain the fire tanks and to ensure that there is a reliable water source could endanger Newton House as there is no other means of providing water in the event of a fire.
The only building that could be described as ornamental, the Cold Bath, is overgrown and has been largely destroyed by the conversion of the actual bath into a tank in the late 19th century. The original layout, date of construction and length of use are unknown.
Llandyfeisant Church is both functional and ornamental as it is part of the designed landscape. It was converted into an interpretative centre by The Wildlife Trust though this has been closed since 1990. Lack of resources has hindered regular maintenance and the building and graveyard are deteriorating. Without additional resources and a sustainable use this decay will continue. Illegal occupation of the adjacent house has occurred in the past.
Failure to survey these buildings and structures in detail prior to repair or consolidation could destroy significance.
Several key buildings, such as the gate lodges and dovecote, are in private ownership. The red brick used to construct Mynachdy and South Lodge clashes with the subdued tones of the surrounding 18th century landscape.
Physical Condition - Buries Archaelogy
The two Roman forts and associated settlement are vulnerable to damage from tree roots and agricultural activity, in particular arable cultivation. Future threats include tree planting during restoration of the designed landscape, metal detecting and unauthorised or irresponsible excavation. The National Trust acknowledges that excavation in any form (including that undertaken on a professional basis) would permanently diminish the archaeological resource. However, a failure to explore the opportunities afforded by this significant discovery could restrict the potential to enhance our understanding of the Roman conquest of Wales and the development of the park.
Historical accounts record two medieval towns within the park but the location and form of these settlements is unknown. The potential for future discoveries is enormous not only of buildings but also of field systems, boundaries, streets and roads. These fragile remains are vulnerable to agricultural disturbance, unplanned tree planting and major development works.
Excavation within the castle and adjoining earthworks has been minimal during conservation work.
Newton House and Garden
The interior of the house is generally robust but elements of the remaining historic fabric are vulnerable to change of use or gradual depreciation. The condition of the plaster ceilings and soffits is of concern and the quality of the joinery merits a higher degree of conservation. The exterior is in good condition but the integrity of the Penson scheme should be upheld and not diminished by inappropriate use of the surrounding area or badly designed signage.
As both courtyards are in private ownership the National Trust only owns half of the original house and historic integrity is compromised. Understanding, interpreting and presenting Newton House is difficult.
Our ability to present the house is also diminished by the absence of indigenous pieces of furniture. These were largely disposed of before the house was sold.
The Dynevor Collection of Paintings was purchased with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a condition of this grant that these paintings are exhibited to the public and curatorial, conservation and security standards must be maintained. At present the paintings do not meet conservation requirements.
The Fountain Garden has been partially restored and is currently looked after by volunteers. A formal parterre garden requires a resource and management commitment that could be underestimated. Restoration of the layout shown in family photographs should not be undertaken unless guaranteed funds are available.
The farmhouse at Home Farm has been maintained as a well-appointed family home. Unfortunately the walls have been re-pointed with cement mortar. Unless removed this will result in serious structural decay though the extraction process might also damage the stones. The farm buildings are in poor condition. Stone slates are missing, roofs have been replaced, timbers are rotten, walls have been removed, openings blocked and new openings created. Refurbishment and consolidation is essential if these buildings are to survive. Conversion could, however, lead to loss of historic integrity. Even the removal of small details or a failure to use appropriate materials could reduce our ability to explain the importance of this site. Alterations that affect the spatial composition of the original layout and the relationship with the rest of the park could degrade quality and diminish significance.
Home Farm garden is a labour-intensive, modern garden laid out without regard to historic plans.
Neglecting Trust standards and guidelines could result in an environmentally, unsustainable complex of buildings.
Pen parc is a relatively recent structure but as an estate building it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the evolution of the landscape. It is an opportunity to demonstrate how the National Trust implements the highest standards when undertaking a building conversion.
Habitats and Ecology
The exceptional habitats and communities are threatened by land management regimes both inside and outside the property. Agriculture has reduced the significance of large areas; some parts are all but devoid of nature conservation interest and others are severely threatened.
The national significance of the tree communities was not fully appreciated until surveys were undertaken as part of the conservation plan though the dependant invertebrate and lichen communities had been described. A failure to protect existing trees or to plan for their replacement could lead to the destruction of both the designed landscape and the natural environment. The greatest immediate threat to the long-term regeneration of the tree community is the grey squirrel. Squirrels are damaging and destroying large numbers of trees planted as part of the regeneration programme (see 2.2.5). As Dinefwr is within two 10 kilometre squares of a red squirrel population the use of poison is banned.
The Nant yr Hibo, a tributary of the Nant Gurry Fach which runs through Home Farm, has illegal levels of organic pollutants. Not only is this threat to the immediate catchment it could also damage the ecology of the Afon Twyi, a cSAC for its fish species.
The fauna and flora of the Deer Park wall has yet to be evaluated. Repairs undertaken in advance of such a survey could reduce the significance of this community.
The Wildlife Trust have identified the potential threat of alien species within Castle Wood. Rhododendron and Himalayan Balsam are particularly vigorous in the eastern part.
Rigorous restoration of elements of the designed landscape could threaten natural history significance.
The Countryside Council for Wales would like to designate the park a National Nature Reserve making it the only park to achieve this status in Wales and one of only three in the UK. A failure to appreciate the national significance of the designed landscape could lead to conflict in the future.
The geological exposures attract academic and educational interest. Irresponsible sampling has occurred in the past and could continue to damage these sites. Construction of the present animal handling facilities and shed by the National Trust has obscured one of the best exposures.
Cattle and Deer
The National Trust has a responsibility towards the welfare of the herd of White Park Cattle and the deer. The existing cattle handling facility is inadequate with the no acceptable means of improvement at the present location. Exclosures to encourage regeneration or a realignment of the deer park fence could have implications for the numbers of deer that can be supported. At certain stages in the history of the property the Deer Park may have been larger.
The enormous cultural significance of the castle and its history with its mixture of myth and reality has been underestimated within the National Trust’s management regime. It has failed to make used of the information provided in Cadw’s excellent guidebook
The cultural importance of the landscape as a whole has no statutory protection under current legislation.
Although the greater part of the park is owned or managed by the National Trust, Cadw and the Wildlife Trust, important elements of the designed landscape and several buildings are in private ownership. Damage to, or the removal of, the distinctive clumps of Pen lan fawr would greatly diminish the significance of the park. Although listed, both the inner and outer courtyards are liable to unsympathetic use detrimental to the historic integrity of Newton House. Both walled gardens are also privately owned. One is maintained as a garden, the other has lost most of its original features and has recently received planning permission for conversion to a site for fixed caravans.
Large, intensive farms reliant on inorganic fertilisers occupy the Twyi valley. As the prevailing winds are from the south west nitrate enrichment occurs within the park This, together with ammonia pollution, also threatens the lichen communities. Woodland on the scarp slope and in Castle Wood acts as an important buffer.
There are many borrowed views, though most of these never belonged to the estate and many are distant. Modern buildings on the outskirts of Llandeilo impinge on the views to the east and south though the actual town is concealed by Pen lan fawr.
Current and Proposed Use
The house is open to the public and one reception room has been converted into a tea-room. Visitors in vehicles approach up the single-track East Drive, which has difficulty accommodating large numbers of cars. The car park and visitor reception are poorly located within the designed landscape and parked cars are damaging old trees. Opportunities for working in partnership have been missed. Although visitors to the castle use the National Trust car park, each of the three organisations has largely operated within the context of their own responsibilities.
The Deer Park and parts of the meadows are in hand but the remainder of the fields are let on annual grazing licences.
Refurbishment and repairs to the Home Farm complex will need to be supported by policies to ensure that archaeological, curatorial, conservation and environmental standards are upheld. Conversion of Pen parc to holiday accommodation will require similar input. Communicating routes between this site and the house, castle and park have the potential to threaten the existing historic fabric, detract from the designed landscape and introduce unwarranted, modern intrusions.
Conversion of all or parts of Newton House to alternative uses could endanger the historic integrity and reduce the association between the family and the area that has been in place since the 15th century. Tenancy agreements could fail to control car parking, access and signage difficulties.
Although the National Trust has altered farming practices on the property, and will continue to monitor grazing licences, the potential for unsympathetic use remains.
There is no adopted Unitary Development Plan for Carmarthenshire but the draft deposit includes policies to protect the wider landscape setting. Part of the park lies within the Llandeilo Conservation Area and the Twyi valley is included within the Cadw/Icomos/Countryside Council for Wales Register of Landscapes of Outstanding Historical Importance in Wales.
The Llandeilo by-pass slices through the northern part of the property but not through the park. Kings Lodge (not National Trust) is now cut off from a drive than once linked the house to the Carmarthen road though this has not been used for access since the early part of the 19th century. The sound of the traffic impacts on the adjacent fields and Pen parc. There are roads to the south of the property but these are partially hidden by mature hedges and noise level is low.
There is one public right of way through the park and the local community walk into the park via the eastern drive. The vehicular route to the castle provides access for disabled visitors.
The National Trust does not own the fishing rights on the Twyi but does hold sporting rights. The National Trust owns to half-way across the river. This is a dynamic river and the boundary could be subject to dispute if the bank moves or an island forms.
When acquired in 1987 Dinefwr Park still retained its 18th century layout. Away from the house the Rice family carried out few alterations after the end of the 18th century. Several exotics were planted but these do not detract from the overall design. The few small 19th century buildings, all functional, are inconspicuous with the notable exception of Keepers (Mynachdy - see 5.2.7). The façade and garden added in 1856 to Newton House have been criticised but the wall and ha-ha have successfully isolated these Victorian intrusions with only an Edwardian tennis court straying into the park. Removal of timber from the middle of The Rookery in the middle of the 20th century has left an unfortunate gap but replacement trees have been planted. Although the modern agricultural building at Pen Parc is located outside the principal views it is an intrusion and in poor condition. Modern steel-span sheds that overwhelm the simpler estate buildings dominate Home Farm.
Additions introduced by the National Trust have been less successful, though most of these came about because of visitor requirements. Footpaths with inappropriate surfaces and hard edges have been created. The board-walk, running through Bog Wood and encircling Mill Pond, is enormously popular with visitors but is anachronistic within an 18th century design. The newly-created gravel path to the icehouse does not follow a historic line. Modern art installations are inappropriately sited. The present car park not only threatens the long-term survival of the veteran trees beneath which it sits but also spoils the approach to the house. Signage and way marking is confusing and obtrusive. An agricultural building was constructed in the quarry between Newton House and the castle as a means of managing the herd of White Park Cattle. This is obtrusive and blocks access to the rock faces that are a SSSI, important for fossils and a good example of the Llandeilo series.
Newton House is a Victorian image sitting within a 18th century parkland. Much of the parkland furniture introduced by the National Trust, such as park railings and tree guards, reflect 19th century occupation. It could be argued that these diminish the impact of the park and present a confused message though alternatively they may represent a legitimate historic overlay.
Modern agriculture has affected the appearance of much of the park, in particular fencing. On Home Farm recent boundaries have destroyed all sense of parkland and the division of Lower Park into regular fields has reduced the impact of Dinefwr Castle. Run-off from intensively farmed fields has reduced water quality as demonstrated by the eutrophication of Mill Pond.
Modern planting, including lines of poplars, and suburban development have affected the carefully constructed views east from the house.
Public and Community Expectations
National Trust ownership of most of Dinefwr Park and Newton House implies high levels of access and presentation, expectations that are not being met at present. The single track entry route and small car park hinders vehicle access. Interpretation is limited with most visitors failing to understand the significance of the landscape. Present conservation policies restrict entry to large parts of the park. The National Trust has not fully explored Dinefwr’s potential as an educational and lifelong learning resource.
There is currently little on-site interpretation or presentation of Church and Castle Woods and access is restricted to a scant network of paths. There is no vehicular access apart from the National Trust car park though Church Woods abuts Llandeilo.
Cadw maintain and interpret their site but it is contained within Wildlife Trust property and this in turn lies within the National Trust estate. In order to fulfil community and public expectations it is obliged to take account of the aims of these organisations.
Dinefwr’s potential as an educational and lifelong learning resource can only be met if the three partner organisations co-ordinate and co-operate.
Dinefwr is part of the landscape of Llandeilo, functioning as a community asset and giving local people a sense of ownership and pride. Any restriction on the informal pedestrian access offered at present would be deeply unpopular. The enthusiastic group of volunteers who assist the National Trust in presenting and stewarding Newton House represents a distinctive element of this community as do the volunteers who work with the Wildlife Trust. If the Dinefwr Project is to be successful both these organisations must ensure that its aims and objectives are clearly understood by all volunteers.
Gaps in UnderstandingAlthough our understanding of the significance of the landscape has been enhanced by the excellent surveys carried out as part of the conservation plan and earlier surveys several gaps remain. Some of these issues have not been addressed because of lack of resources, time or expertise but others, by far the majority, arise from recent work.
Further analysis of the designed landscape should include the following:
- a topographical survey for the remainder of the property
- the assessment of the uncatalogued archives in the National Library of Wales
- detailed surveys of all buildings including those not in National Trust ownership
- detailed survey of all machinery
- survey and excavation of alleged Cold Bath House
- analysis of planting patterns to include under-storey shrubs and trees
- survey of the Deer Park wall to include mortar analysis
- the role of the castle ruins in the development of the park, a project that would benefit from working in partnership with Cadw
- survey of two walled gardens
- excavation to clarify the topography of the sunken track
- excavation to confirm that the 18th century paths were surfaced with grass
- detailed designed landscape survey of Church and Castle Woods
The discovery of two Roman forts, possible bath house, roads and vicus should be further investigated by means of geophysical survey and trial excavation. This will enable the National Trust to put together a research strategy for the site. Further geophysical survey could also clarify the location of the medieval and restoration landscape.
Our understanding of the veteran tree community is incomplete. Managing this resource may fail unless we have additional information to include:
- a comprehensive dendrochronological study
- an analysis of veteran tree habitat that will also serve to establish base line information for monitoring purposes
- a tree by tree survey for the most vulnerable trees
- a dead wood volume assessment
- a mycological study
- veteran alders
The ecology and habits of the flood meadows and oxbow lakes have not been surveyed to same level as the rest of the estate. Further work will be needed to be undertaken if the dynamics of this important landscape are to understood. This should include:
- over-wintering wildfowl
- emergent and aquatic plants
- shingle banks
- catchment issues
Newton House and Home Farm have been surveyed in some detail but there is no building archaeology study of the inner and outer courtyards, neither of which belongs to the National Trust. An assessment of the chronological development of Home Farm is also required. Dendrochronology may date some or of all the structures on the property, none of which are securely dated. Further examination of decorative history to define early paint finishes and subsequent decorative schemes is required before Home Farm is refurbished and redecorated.Top